This post was co-written with Michael Gray who has researched spankings in the British theatre from 1930-1960.
It was an era when the drawing-room comedy reigned supreme – polite, light-hearted romantic plays which reflected the lifestyle of the well-to-do upper middle classes. Michael’s discoveries draw back the lace curtains to reveal a buttoned-up, mannered world where strict stepmothers and severe maiden aunts ruled the roost. Any flighty young madams who stepped out of line could expect to be dealt with in ways which must have surprised and delighted gentleman members of the audience.
Update November 2012: The still that I’ve added at the top shows Mary Pickford being spanked by her aunt in Pollyanna. Although it comes from an American movie and not a British stage play, I think it captures the F/F spirit behind this post’s title perfectly and gives us a good idea how one of Wilfred Massey’s stage spankings might have looked (on a personal note, the picture was one of the first spanking photos I ever saw, in a book about MGM film studiios, and remains an all-time favourite). Another version of the same scene has recently appeared on ebay. Thanks to Richard Windsor for finding this.
Many aficionados of spanking tend to be collectors of ephemera. Our fascination for all things spanking leads us down all sorts of obscure alleys. We investigate old films, old books, old newspapers and old comics. But what about the theatre? Once a play’s run is over it has vanished. It no longer exists except in memory. Or does it?
Stage play scripts have for many years been an invaluable source for research into theatre spankings. There were many such scenes in British plays from the 1930s through to the early 60s. We shall never see most of them, but at least we can read what happened and conjure them up in our mind’s eye.
Theatre and cinema have certain similarities so it is hardly surprising that the Golden Age of Cinema Spanking was reflected to a considerable extent in the theatre. Nor should it surprise us that the plays with the best spanking scenes are not always top of the range. We would not go to Shakespeare (despite Kiss Me Kate) or Chekhov or Arthur Miller for our spanking treats any more than we go to Renoir or Rossellini or Hitchcock (whose fetishes were of a different order) at the movies.
One company in particular in Britain has preserved a notable collection of play scripts. I propose a toast to Samuel French, who still have their own shop in London (the edge of Fitzroy Square last time I looked). They still sell scripts there though most of those I am about to feature will probably be absent. But they should be orderable, and are also available in the British Library.
Wilfred Massey is the first name from that bygone era that I intend to invoke. He was a Lancashire fellow, and wrote pieces that were part comedy and part mystery. Barely a single play of his goes by without at least the threat of a spanking.
I’m giving Massey pride of place in this article because he was so clearly one of us, but there are two things that have to be said about him. The spankings, if they materialised, were always off-screen, and they never involved a man. Since none of us are ever going to see a Massey play the first point may not be a great problem. As for the second, Massey liked strict, severe maiden aunts, and flighty young madams who caused them apoplexy.
The Price of Fame was not typical Massey. Tessa was a teenage girl whose father had remarried. Tessa tried to be as awkward as she could with her stepmother.
Eventually the stepmother had a “this has got to be done” moment. She took hold of a hairbrush and then took hold of Tessa. The girl can’t believe what is happening to her as she is led off-stage. The audience then heard the unmistakable sounds of a good old-fashioned spanking as Tessa had the hairbrush applied to her bottom.
Such Things Happen is vintage Massey, a quite extraordinary piece. Valerie was rather older than Tessa, in her early 20s. Her maiden aunt (Aunt Ursula I think) disapproved greatly of Valerie’s cheeky attitude and said three or four time over the course of the play that Valerie needed her bottom spanked.
One of the extraordinary things about this play is that more than one script has survived, and the way the spanking is resolved is entirely different in the two versions. It’s as if Massey so enjoyed writing this piece and indulging himself that he went back to it more than once.
In one version Valerie takes off one of her tennis shoes and says to Aunt Ursula:
“You either use that on me right here and now or you never again use the words “spanked” or “bottom” when referring to me”.
Aunt Ursula’s bluff is called, Valerie remains unspanked, and the subject is never raised again.
In the other extant version it is Aunt Ursula taking the initiative. She suffers Valerie’s impertinence once too often and chases the girl upstairs where she administers a sound spanking to Valerie’s bottom. When Valerie re-emerges she is no longer the self-possessed young woman she had been minutes before, more like a hysterical naughty child with a mighty sore bottom.
Now let’s look at two rather different examples. Both of these involve a spanking actually taking place on stage, and in each case it is a man spanking a woman.
Roger the Sixth by Joseph Carole is a reverse case scenario from The Price of Fame. Here it is the mother who has remarried, presumably for the sixth time! She has two bratty children, a boy of about nine or ten and a girl, Penny, in her late teens. Roger disapproves of both of them. He gives the boy an offscreen spanking before tackling Penny centre stage.
She splutters the usual “Don’t you dare” stuff before being bundled over his knee and given a first rate spanking. The script says that when she is released there are tears in her eyes, which also blaze with fury as she nurses her smarting and outraged bottom.
Again we have a courting couple, which somehow seems the right expression for these parlour comedies, and in the original production I believe the girl was played by the delectable Shirley Ann Field.
Father and fiancé both agreed what Shirley needed, but father deemed her “too big” for a paternal spanking. The valiant fiancé steps in and follows Shirley off-stage. She’s wearing a pair of figure hugging trousers and six resounding spanks and six anguished yelps are heard.
I recall that a girl got spanked with a slipper in Ronald Millar’s The More the Merrier but the details escape me. There is a picture though:
Ivor Novello in his own way seems to have had a bit of a thing about spanking, and his productions are still sometimes put on. A young woman spanks another young woman (which always seems a bit odd) in Full House. And there is a better but rather jokey spanking in Perchance to Dream.
Finally, Friendly Relations by James Liggatt involves a courting couple. The spanking comes right at the end of the third act when the fiancé eventually decides for “the sake of their future marriage” that a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do and takes his struggling girlfriend, Anne, over to the sofa and turns her over his knee.
She gets her bottom spanked as the curtain falls. The rest of the cast come back on and shake his hand for daring to do what all seem to agree was sorely needed – meanwhile Anne remains over her fiancés knee having her bottom spanked.
There is a photo of a production of this showing the spanking. Anne is played by Pat Phoenix, who was shortly to become famous as Elsie Tanner in the long running TV soap opera Coronation Street.
This brings our story to an abrupt end because Coronation Street was inspired by the new “kitchen sink” dramas which started to appear in the late 1950s. Writers such as John Osborne and Arnold Wesker led a new wave of gritty, realistic playwrights who had little time for the decorum of the drawing room and by the 1960s flighty madams and hairbrush-wielding maiden aunts had made way for a new generation of “angry young men”.
But all was not lost.
An early episode of Coronation Street contained a spanking scene, when rebellious teenager Jennifer Moss (left) was given something to shout and holler about by her screen father. And Pat Phoenix herself as the fiery Elsie must have got a sense of deja vue when she was threatened with a spanking by her macho lover Len Fairclough.
Coronation Street was set in the fictional town of Wetherfield in Wilfred Massey’s home county of Lancashire. I’m sure he would have quickly learned to love this new form of drama!